Photos: Joann Gomez/Music Looks Like This
While most of the cognoscenti (including a large chunk of The Couch Sessions crew) made their way to the warmth of welcoming Austin and the festivities surrounding SXSW, we New Yorkers were treated to the our own brand of heat. Springing from the creative forerunners at Wax Poetics, Le Poisson Rouge played host to The Wax Poetics Variety Show. Knowing the vision of the publication, there was no question the night was curated to be a successful blend of musical styles and experiences.
A soulful DJ set by Adrian Younge set the stage for the evening. Weaving through old school classics seamlessly, it was startling when host Pharaohe Monch took to the mic to officially welcome the crowd. Without hesitation, he introduced Brainfeeder recording artist Taylor McFerrin to do a freestyle production set. With little fanfare and a brief introduction, he immediately broke out into an acapella beat. Grabbing our attention with its smooth melody, he quickly incorporated his beat machine and the odyssey began. McFerrin conjured an ethereal, jazzy vibe during his 45 minute set. Bass and percussive heavy, the music had the audience nodding heads in tandem as he entertained us in his futuristic urban hang suite. In addition to his own impeccable beat box and the beat machine, he also incorporated the keys during his set. Influences from classical, during a remix of his track ‘Decisions’, to a free form bossa nova inspired track showcased just how gifted an artist McFerrin is. It was a great start to the evening.
Next on the stage was the well practiced DJ Spinna. With his production history and his legendary dance parties, Spinna has the catalogue to put on a show. Using his extensive vinyl collection, he did a set that was a master class in DJing. His set was a flashback to rent parties in the 70s. With each track, the crowd did a mix of “ooohs” and “ahhhs” as he led a history lesson of popular samples for hip-hop. From forgotten hits like Baby Huey‘s ‘Hard Times’ to the more popular offerings of Marvin Gaye and James Brown, the audience had no choice but to keep a constant two-step. It was the perfect transition to the main event.
Adrian Younge returned to the stage with his psychedelic soul collective Venice Dawn and they wasted no time diving into a rollicking set. The flexibility of the band was on display the entire night as band members traded instruments from song to song. Within moments, the crowd was enticed into a soul clap and a jam session was on. With each song, you wondered where else they could take it, when their energy would run out. But they just loosened their collars and went harder. The haunting vocals laid the foundation for the main feature, William Hart of The Delfonics. Celebrating their joint album release, Younge introduced the legend and referenced his influence on hip-hop as Ali Shaheed Muhammad also thanked him for his contributions to the movement. Energized by the energy from the crowd, Hart worked the crowd as he ran through classics. Backed by Venice Dawn’s tight rhythms, Hart ran through ‘Ready or Not’ and ‘Enemies’ as he thanked the crowd for keeping him young. He didn’t leave before leading a group sing along of “La La La La (I Love You)’ that had the crowd swaying. The hip-hop influence couldn’t be separated as Hart took the role of MC and led a call and response worthy of the greatest. He left the stage and let Venice Dawn finish out with another jam session to finish off the night. They continued with the blend of old school soul with futuristic rock that kept the place alive.
As Spinna returned to do another DJ set to close out the evening, it was another testament to the power of good music. The Variety Show was a great snapshot of the beauty of old school influences interpreted through a post-modern lens. It’s so easy to forget where things came from, and the night was a great reminder. The best part was seeing where things are headed. And the future looks bright.